That was the message of Danny Alexander’s speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference this morning. Change – but not just any sort of change:
Two ideas will dominate this election campaign: change and fairness. Only one party is arguing at this election for both fairness and change: the Liberal Democrats.
Change: because business as usual is not the answer to the economic, political, and environmental crises that we face.
Fairness: because too many people in our society are still held back because of the circumstances of their birth, their sex or their parent’s bank balance.
He repeated a now often said promise to have a short and sharp manifesto:
The core of the Liberal Democrat manifesto will be short, direct and to the point.
We have stripped away everything that is not essential because the country cannot afford it.
And we have set out in detail – more directly than any other party – how we will tackle the crisis in our nation’s finances.
We won’t make a single promise to the British people without saying exactly how we will pay for it.
We have taken some difficult decisions. I know it is not easy to put on hold some long-standing party commitments that we won’t be able to deliver in the next Parliament.
But it is the right thing to do – because we will not make promises we can’t keep.
Echoing themes that will be familiar to readers of his book and once again in a clear nod in the direction of the party’s priorities, the first specific policy mentioned was fair taxes:
Thanks to Labour and the Tories, the poorest people lose more of their income in tax than the richest. That’s not fairness.
A banker pays only a fifth of his capital gains in tax, while the person who cleans his office gives a third of their meagre wage to the taxman. That’s not fairness.
Our plan is simple: we will make the first £10,000 you earn tax free.
I believe this is the single most radical, distinctive, and fair policy on offer from any party at this election.
That will put £700 into the pockets of almost every working person. £1400 for the average family with two earners.
Real money back in the pockets of people who are struggling to make ends meet.
Over 3 million more of the lowest paid people will pay no income tax at all. That’s fairness.
Every week in the Highlands, I meet families who are facing real financial difficulties. Income falling, bills to pay, children to feed and clothe.
They see all the money going to the banks, hear all the talk of cuts, and ask ‘who is standing up for me?’
The answer is the Liberal Democrats.
We’ll pay for it by closing loopholes exploited by the wealthy.
Danny Alexander repeated the four steps which are now a familiar part of Liberal Democrat MPs’ speeches and leaflets:
A new, fair start for all children at school.
A rebalanced, green economy.
And clean, open politics.
Education got a special mention:
Even in the depths of the recession, we will find new money for education – by scaling back tax credits to better off families – because it is so important to the future of our country.
As did bankers:
The Liberal Democrats, with Vince Cable as chancellor, will break up the banks so that they can never again wreck the economy. And until the break up is complete, our new banking levy is the only credible proposal in British politics to make them pay for the guarantee we give them.
Other policies to get a mention (and therefore to have made the cut for the manifesto) were:
- A fair voting system to end safe seats and ensure representative government.
- Giving people the power to sack their MPs if they break the rules.
- Power taken from Westminster and given to communities.
- An end to big money in politics.
- Protect the NHS frontline, using the health savings we find to safeguard services.
- Immediately restore the link between pensions and earnings, so pensioners don’t fall further behind when growth returns.
- Use the amount of money we would save by scrapping ID cards to put 3000 more police on the beat.
- Cut desk jobs at the MOD so we can pay our brave service men and women a decent living wage.